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U.S. And Russia Still Have Some Common Ground

Published: July 31, 2014 (Issue # 1822)

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In nominating John Tefft to be his ambassador to the Russian Federation, U.S. President Barack Obama chose a gifted and experienced diplomat. Assuming the Senate confirms him — and there is no reason to think it will not — he will have to draw heavily on that skill and expertise to manage a U.S.-Russian relationship that has hit its lowest point since the end of the Cold War.

One key challenge will be confronting Moscow on difficult issues, such as Ukraine, while maintaining cooperation on other questions where U.S. and Russian interests converge, such as Iran. Striking that balance will not prove easy.

Ambassador Tefft certainly brings the right credentials: More than 40 years in the diplomatic service. Ambassador to Ukraine, Georgia and Lithuania. Deputy chief of mission in Moscow. Deputy assistant secretary with responsibility for Russia. Two tours on the Soviet desk. And he has that rare knack for being able to deliver a tough message in a way that the recipient gets it but does not want to shoot the messenger.

That will come in handy because it looks like he will need to deliver a lot of tough messages.

Ukraine tops the list of issues at present. After seizing Crimea, the Kremlin continued to interfere in Ukraine by providing support for the insurgency in Donetsk and Luhansk. This support has included the supply of heavy weapons, one of which apparently was a surface-to-air missile used by the separatists in the Malaysia Airlines shootdown. Tefft has some experience in this area, having served on the Soviet desk in 1983 when a Soviet interceptor shot down a Korean Air Lines 747.

Washington has supported Kiev and ratcheted up sanctions on Russia, in parallel with punitive measures adopted by the European Union. The sanctions have hurt the Russian economy, but they thus far have failed in their political purpose: to get President Vladimir Putin to shut down the weapon flow and press the separatists to stop fighting.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has proposed decentralizing power, making Russian an official language of Ukraine, and promising not to pursue a deeper relationship with NATO.

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Saturday, Oct. 25

AVA Expo, the eighth edition of the event revolving around all things pop, returns to Lenexpo this weekend. Geeks, nerds, dweebs and dorks will have their chance to talk science fiction and explore a variety of international pop culture. Tickets for the event can be purchased on their website at

Sunday, Oct. 26

Zenit St. Petersburg returns home for the first time in nearly a month as they host Mordovia Saransk in a Russian Premier League game. Currently at the top of the league thanks to their undefeated start to the season, the northern club hopes to extend the gap between them and second-place CSKA Moscow and win the title for the first time in three years. Tickets are available at the stadium box office or on the club’s website.

Monday, Oct. 27

Today marks the end of the art exhibit “Neophobia” at the Erarta Museum. Artists Alexey Semichov and Andrei Kuzmin took a neo-modernist approach to represent the array of fears that are ever-present throughout our lives. Tickets are 200 rubles ($4.90).

Tuesday, Oct. 28

The Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel plays host to SPIBA’s Marketing and Communications Committee’s round table discussion on “Government Relations Practices in Russia” this morning. The discussion starts at 9:30 a.m. and participation must be confirmed by Oct. 24.

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